WASHINGTON -- President Bush is offering to turn his verbal agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin on large cuts in nuclear arsenals into "a document that outlives both of us."
Bush's choice of words seemed to indicate a new willingness to engage in detailed negotiations -- although he steered clear of that term -- on aspects of nuclear arms reductions important to the Russians.
Administration officials previously have expressed reluctance to get into drawn-out negotiations, arguing that in the post-Cold War world there is no need for such formal arms constraints.
Bush said he discussed the matter this week with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who also met Wednesday with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Ivanov was scheduled to see Secretary of State Colin Powell and meet with CIA officials Thursday.
At a White House news conference, Bush said Wednesday his administration also is willing to discuss with the Russians their concern about his administration's plans to store, rather than destroy, thousands of the nuclear warheads Bush intends to remove from the active force over the next decade.
Bush said he hopes an arms agreement will be ready to sign when he visits Putin in Russia in May.
Bush and his senior national security aides have said in the past that because Russia is no longer an adversary, there is no need to codify arms reductions. Putin, however, has pushed for a formal agreement.
In response to reporters' questions, Bush said his chief concern in putting together a nuclear accord was ensuring that agreed reductions could be verified by both governments.
"The most important thing, though, is verification -- to make sure that whatever decision is made, that there is open verification so as to develop a level of trust," he said.
On the issue of requiring the destruction, rather than long-term storage, of nuclear warheads removed from the active force, Bush said this would require "a lot of work," presumably by negotiators.
"That in itself is going to take time, and that's got to be a part of the equation as well," he said.
Bush said he was wary of "those who are interested in making sure that the Cold War relationship continues on." He did not elaborate.
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